Friday, January 22, 2010

In other news...

In other news...

We now have motorbikes! Mobility has made me feel more at home in Thailand, for sure! We have so much freedom. On the second day of owning our bikes, we pointed at a map and said, "Lets go there!" So we set off on our journey, only to get lost 5 minutes later. We ended up circling the mote a few times and somehow we made it onto the superhighway (which was the thing we were most terrified about driving on). Then we were in this little undeveloped area, driving along the river. But alas, we were victorious! We managed to get completely lost multiple times but eventually we found our way back to our home. It was a good way to face our fears of driving in Chiang Mai. I am now fairly confident that I can find my way back if I ever get lost again. There are some great landmarks such as, "the mountain," "the mote," and "the river." For those of you at home who know about our directional-awareness-issues, have no fear. We will be fine.

Motorbikes have been very helpful as our schedules fill up. We are driving back and forth between campuses multiple times a day. In addition to our poetry and drama class, writing center hours, and chapel, we are teaching informal english classes twice a week, taking thai class twice a week, I am still teaching voice lessons, and I am now coaching an under 11 girls basketball team... and I may or may not have just inadvertently started up a little drama club for a few of the nursing Ajaans. So life is fairly busy, but its filled with some pretty delightful things.

Coaching is great fun! 9-11 year old girls are hilarious! I have so much fun just watching them interact and act goofy. I'm not a very tough coach, although sometimes they say I am when I make them run two lines in a row. I think I've lost a bit of my competitive nature since high school, but I'm trying to get it back. Knowing how to coach is harder than I imagined it would be. I am still searching for the balance of structure, freedom, competition, and fun. Most of the time I just want to let them do whatever they want. They're are only 11 years old- they should just have fun and not worry about winning or losing. But then I remember when I was that age and basketball was a huge part of my life. Competition was what made it fun- not necessarily winning or losing, but the thought that what we were doing was important. Now, after having received a college education, I realize that in the large scheme of things, a basketball game is really not that important. But in order to make this a fun experience for the girls, I need to become an 11 year old girl again-- which is not that difficult, really. I loved being 11.

Teaching, teaching, teaching. I don't know about teaching. After I graduated with a music degree I figured I'd go back to school eventually to get my masters in teaching. What else can I really do with a generic music degree? Last week I was convinced that I did not want to be a teacher. Here are the reasons why: 1. I have a ardent dislike for planning lessons. 2. I don't like telling people what to do. I feel that these two items are vital parts of teaching. Although, my situation here is quite unique. I'm teaching a subject that I don't know much about and we have no curriculum. So making lesson plans means hours of searching the internet for sources that seem reliable, and learning about a subject the day before I teach it. Its an adventure every time. Perhaps being a choir director at a high school would be less stressful. BUT, I still don't like telling people what to do and I don't know if I'll ever get over that one. Maybe one day I'll suck it up and be a leader (though I'd much rather follow...).

Funny stories...
1. Our first basketball game: Everyone was super excited to play our first game against PRC, a neighboring thai school. The game was supposed to start at 3:30pm, but the other team didn't show up until 4:15, so we had quite a thorough warm up. When they finally arrived, the whole gym went silent. It was like a scene from a movie in slow motion. In walked these giant woman who were taller than me. The girls on my team are about half my height. All of a sudden, parents were rushing down from the stands to talk to coaches and athletic directors. "There is no way my daughter is playing against them..." It turns out, they were 16 and 17 year olds. After much discussion and confusion, it was decided (while I stood meekly by) that they would not be playing the PRC's high school team. The girls were pretty disappointed. When we asked them what they wanted to do they all really wanted to play them even though they were giants. Brave little ones! It would have been an interesting game, that's for sure! In the end, they just scrimmaged against each other, which may have not been the best for team morale (there was already some drama developing within the team).

2. A chapel to remember: One of those times when everything seems to go wrong. Our usual chapel routine is to wake up at 7am and go down to the office to pick up copies of the sermon we had written for the students to read. Then we would pass the copies out, sing a couple songs with my guitar, read the sermon, and pray. The first problem this morning was that the office was closed, so we could not pick up the copies. And of course we didn't have the original, so we had nothing to read from. Then Amy quickly decided to let me entertain the students while she went back to the room to get her laptop to read from. The second problem was that I had no guitar. My guitar string broke for the second time, and I had completely forgotten to borrow a guitar the night before. So Amy left me alone, with no guitar, standing in front of 100 expecting nursing students, at 7:30 in the morning. First song on the agenda: Amazing Grace. I asked if anyone played the piano and a timid girl came up to the stage and sat at the piano. Luckily she knew the song Amazing Grace and she started playing. Third problem: she started playing in a key that does not work for voices at 7:30 in the morning (too high!). Fourth problem: no one knew the words in English because we didn't give them copies. So the beginning of chapel consisted of me screeching (literally screeching) Amazing Grace while the nursing students mutely observed with wide-eyes. Oh, Grace... How much you are needed! Eventually Amy came back and on her way back the office was open so she was able to get the copies. The rest of chapel went smoothly. Good times.

The end.

P.S. Pictures will come soon (I think).

Thursday, January 21, 2010

To learn English

Tonight was the second night of the informal English classes Sarah and I just started for the nursing students. Getting to know students in our dorm has proven somewhat difficult because relationships are very hierarchical in Thai culture and many students are much too shy to speak English to "farang," or foreigners. When we first arrived students would burst into giggles when we said hello to them in the hallways, but it has steadily gotten better; sometimes they say it first to us now. We wanted to start informal English classes to get to know them better and to help them feel more comfortable speaking English. Most Thai students have studied English in school for years, but seldom speak it as they study. Sarah and I each teach groups of ten for two nights a week.

For our first week we did a few simple exercises having to do with greetings and small talk. We also played some games including a smaller version of Scattergories. Parts of the first class didn't go the way I had hoped...I forgot that a teacher cannot sit on the floor if students sit on the couch, so when I sat down they all immediately slid to the floor. I also mispronounced one student's name and they all froze. I am still not sure what I said. They spoke Thai to each other some of the time. But some parts of tonight were great: they were laughing and feeling comfortable talking a little, they tried the banana bread we made for them, and I think they felt like we cared about them as people. I am convinced that our nursing students are the cutest women in the world.

In teaching long term goals are important. There are always things about every lesson to pull out: different wording for explanations, timing, almost anything could be better. I am learning to try to fix the small things that I can, but to be grateful when the long term goals are still in place. A few of the games or exercises might not really work, but they are still speaking English a little and getting more used to being with foreigners. I long to really know these women, to have them deeply know that we are all the same on some level.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Finally, a blog.

I (Amy) would like this blog to have glimpses of the daily, to give someone the ability to see just a little of what it is like to be here. Alas, doing small things (like updating a blog) are difficult to do faithfully. I have been putting off writing for about a month now because so much has happened that I don't know where to start and we have been so busy. This is my honest effort to start writing again, even if it is not much. Hopefully I will get better at this as the year goes on.

Sarah and I received our TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification right before Christmas. This involved taking a 4 week intensive course that lasted 7 or 8 hours most days. Because we will be teaching conversational English classes to Thai students at Payap in the next few months, this course was particularly helpful. We were able to think about teaching techniques, like classroom management and methodology of teaching, as well as learn specific games or activities that we will be able to use with future classes. One of the teachers, a very humble man, was particularly inspiring to me. Everything he taught us or explained took his students into careful consideration; the lessons were for them only. Teaching English, even at the college level, cannot be lecture-based. It must be highly interactive, getting students to speak as much as possible. This is more difficult than it sounds because it is so natural to feel that, as a teacher, you must explain everything or they won't learn.

We finished teaching the poetry section of our Intro to Poetry and Drama class at Payap. I recently saw a professor who told me that in teaching you have to expect to make mistakes because it is the only way to learn how. Some days feel just like that: long strings of mistakes and seemingly unorganized activities that just don't go the way Sarah and I envision them at all. But other days are good; students seem to care about the material and we get to enjoy them as people. Poetry was difficult for me to teach sometimes. As it is one of the things I love most in this world (and probably always will be), I could feel my inability to communicate why it is essential, why it matters, why it . I would teach a poem and then feel I had not done it justice, sometimes wishing I had never tried at all, almost as if I had wrecked it. Sadly, loving a subject does not make you a good teacher. I think Sarah and I are probably learning in ways we don't see on a daily level. I still don't like being in front of people, but I am far more comfortable than I used to be. The drama section just started and we continue to try new things and laugh a lot.

My family came for about a week and a half for was wonderful to see them. Showing them this place that I have told them so much about and watching them experience Thai food and culture for themselves brought back memories from family vacations as a child. We did lots of touristy things like going on an elephant ride, to the zoo, to museums, on Flight of the Gibbon (a zipline through the jungle), and eating lots of Thai food. Probably my favorite part of their visit was getting to talk with each of them by themselves. I took each of them to a good spot in Chiang Mai, whether it be a little coffee shop with a strange name or a bar that overlooks the river. It is strange to think about the lives that continue in the West without me. Being here feels like stepping outside of time, but it keeps going and turning without me. I have never understood change well.

It doesn't feel much like a new year so far. There are no cold, silent afternoons to wait for snow to fall and we are in the middle of a semester, but I feel a determined excitement about the weeks and months to come. Watching Anna be at home in Chiang Mai and seeing the delight on her face and the sheer familiarity she felt encourages me. I have been blessed time and time again in ways I cannot hope (and should not try) to ever repay. I came to the conclusion one day recently that I often expect life to be easier than it is. I also often do not expect joy to be as rich as it is...there is a strange depth to being here that I have trouble even writing about in my journal these days.